As the government and public servants gear up for what is set to be tough wage negotiations, the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) has warned that a big pay hike for state-employed teachers would force many public schools to increase their fees.

School governing bodies currently employ more than 50,000 educators and 100,000 noneducators, according to Fedsas. Since their take-home pay is typically benchmarked against that of state employees, any increase in public servants’ compensation would have a knock-on effect on schools, said Fedsas deputy CEO Jaco Deacon.

“It is very difficult for schools to match the salary the state pays: we try to match the take-home pay, but not the benefits. These people do the same work, so if [state-employed teachers] get a 12% increase, there is an expectation that they get the same, and schools will not be able to afford it. It will hit the pockets of the parents,” he said.

Unions have tabled a demand for an increase of between 10% and 12%.

Fedsas was also concerned that protracted wage negotiations could lead to a teacher strike, Deacon said. “Unfortunately, because the education sector is so big, and Sadtu [the South African Democratic Teachers Union] is the biggest union in the public service, all the other unions tend to bank on an education strike benefiting [them]. They put pressure on Sadtu to go on strike,” he said.

SA’s biggest teacher union Sadtu had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

However, the National Education. Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), which like Sadtu is an affiliate of labour federation Cosatu, said the government was planning to offer below-inflation increases and reduce the number of public servants in order to cut its wage bill.

The Treasury’s medium-term expenditure framework provides for an overall increase of 7.3% a year, considerably lower than the 10%-12% demand tabled by unions with the Public Sector Co-ordinating Bargaining Council. It warned last week that the growing wage bill for public servants was crowding out spending on other programmes.

“The national union (Nehawu) will intensify the fight against the freezing of posts and the nonfilling of funded posts in the public service. We will fight this tooth and nail more especially after the auditor-general revealed in the financial report for the country’s national and provincial departments, as well as government entities for the 2016-17 financial year, that state irregular expenditure is currently at R45.6bn. This is money that could be better spent on improving the salaries of the loyal public servants,” it said in a statement.

“Nehawu will engage other Cosatu affiliated public-service unions to reject any offer that is less than a double-digit [increase] because of the blunders by President [Jacob] Zuma,” it said.

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